Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness
I was talking to a new homeschooling mom a couple of weeks ago, helping her work through that “What have I done?!” feeling that so many of us homeschoolers have when we first take the leap. I reassured her that almost all homeschooling parents have experienced that “I just jumped off the cliff” kind of panic, especially at the beginning, and I also told her what I tell everyone who asks me about my choice to pull my kids out of school: It’s the best decision my husband and I ever made.
That’s not an overstatement. My boys are so much happier than they were before, and are truly thriving in a way that I’m certain they wouldn’t be if we’d kept them in traditional school. Other people notice and comment on it, too, even before they know that we’re homeschoolers. I regularly have new acquaintances, or neighbors I barely know, tell me about an interesting discussion they had with one of my boys, remarking on how well they hold a conversation, or how thoughtful and engaging they are. And it’s not just my kids — other homeschooling parents I know have similar stories. I honestly think this is one of the most underrated benefits of homeschooling – kids get to be who they are, and get to relate to other people as they are, without any of the power dynamics and judgments that so many kids experience with adults when they’re in school.
So, I’m a big fan of homeschooling, and will enthusiastically talk to anyone who’s interested about the benefits of this lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In fact, some days it’s really, really hard. And truth be told, there have been several occasions when I seriously considered sending the boys back to school.
You see, along with the normal responsibilities and challenges that come along with being a homeschooling parent, a few years ago another issue was added to the list: I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This condition makes me feel like I have a bad flu for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, and when my symptoms are at their worst I run a high fever, my joints ache so much I can barely move, I pass out when I take a shower or stand up for too long, and food… well, even the idea of food makes me nauseous. On these days, helping my older son work through algebra problems, or teaching my younger son how to diagram sentences, are tasks that are nowhere close to doable. In fact, simple conversation is barely possible because I’m totally exhausted and easily annoyed. It’s during these times when the normal challenges of interacting with and guiding two highly-sensitive and energetic boys entirely overwhelm me and make me want to throw in the towel.
I adore my boys, and most days I welcome their higher-than-average levels of emotion and desire for interaction. The difficult part of having highly sensitive kids, however, is that their emotional antennas are so attuned – they pick up on everything, and their highly-active imaginations envision every worst-case scenario. They just need so much reassurance, interaction, and physical touch, it can be exhausting even when my batteries are fully charged. So, on the days when I’m feeling terrible, there’s no missing the worry on their faces the tremble in their voices, and I do my best to put on a happy face (or the happiest one I can muster) and spend precious energy soothing them and trying to calm their fears, insisting again and again that I’m okay, when all I really want to do is yell, “Go away!”
But I can’t, because that would devastate them.
Adding to the difficulty is that I can’t take them to regular music lessons or sports practices — driving is not an option. This means that we’re sometimes stuck in the house together for days at a time, me laying on the couch or in bed feeling like a rusted out old clunker ready for the junk yard, them with minds like race cars revving, ready to go. It’s not a good dynamic.
As the boys have gotten older, though, and as I’ve become more adept at managing my condition, we’ve learned to surf through these difficult days a little more smoothly. We keep our schedule as flexible as possible, not getting too caught up in deadlines or plans we can’t adjust if necessary. They’ve become more independent in some of their work, and focus on the things they can do without my help when they need to. And it’s important to note that there have also been some “up sides” – they’ve learned how to do lots of household chores like cooking dinner, washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking care of the dogs (our version of home economics, I guess).
So, when I’m talking to people about our homeschooling experiences, I’m still honestly able to say that it’s the best decision we ever made. I make sure to let them know that there will be tough days, too, though, and there will definitely be times of doubt, significant doubt, even if they’re not dealing with a chronic illness. Everyone gets the flu or a bad cold sometimes, and there will undoubtedly be other family events that will disrupt things, so it’s okay to just “surf” during these times. You can trust that you’ll get back to a normal routine eventually and, if you’re lucky, maybe your teenager will even be able to bring you dinner!
If you enjoyed this article, check out more on the same topic at this month’s